The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently discovered asbestos fibers after testing a sample of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder that had been purchased from an online retailer. This has led to the recall of a single lot of the product – and the news could not have come at a worse time for the beleaguered company, who once boasted it was “The Most Trusted Brand in America.”

The FDA testing revealed a concentration of asbestos fibers of 20 parts per million, according to Johnson & Johnson, which says they are voluntarily recalling the lot “out of an abundance of caution.”

The lot affected is No. 22318RB, which contains 33,000 bottles of the product manufactured in March of 2018. The retailer was not publicly identified.

Since talcum powder litigation got underway in 2016, Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay several multi-million dollar judgments to plaintiffs who claim they contracted ovarian cancer or mesothelioma while using Baby Powder or Shower to Shower. Last year, a jury in St. Louis, Missouri, awarded $2 billion to a group of 22 women with the disease. J&J is appealing all cases.

Aside from radiation exposure, asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a slow-growing but aggressive cancer of the visceral lining. Other research indicates that talc by itself may cause inflammation and DNA mutations that can lead to the formation of malignant tumors in the ovaries.

Recently, a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found yet more evidence linking asbestos-contaminated talc and mesothelioma. Six of the study’s subjects were found to have tremolite (“hard”) asbestos fibers in their tissues. Tremolite is the variety of asbestos implicated in mesothelioma.

The asbestos recently discovered in J&J talc products is chrysotile, the more common “white” or “soft” variety of asbestos that was used extensively in building insulation and fireproofing during the last century. This type does not cause mesothelioma and is more often associated with asbestosis, but can contribute to cancer. The asbestos discovered was very a small (“sub-trace”) amount, and J&J has said that it is conducting a “rigorous, thorough investigation into the matter,” working with the FDA “to determine the integrity of the tested sample and the validity of the results.”

Nonetheless, this news puts added strain on J&J’s credibility, which has already been questioned since the publication of an investigative report from Reuters last year. That investigation revealed that Johnson & Johnson executives had been aware for decades that its talc may have contained asbestos, yet concealed that knowledge from the public.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.